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Colorado heat exhaustion cases rise; tips on how to stay cool
Colorado heat exposure and exhaustion cases are on the rise, according to doctors working emergency rooms and taking phone calls from vulnerable patients. Today’s blog will walk through some of the worries about heat exhaustion and heat stroke, with Dr. Richard Zane, an emergency medicine expert at University of Colorado Hospital.
After a string of 100-degree days on the Front Range, University and other local hospitals are seeing more patients who were already susceptible to heat-related maladies. The record temperatures pushed their bodies over the edge.
High heat is fanning flames and patient exhaustion
“if you have a normal physiology that deals with heat, you go outside, you’re well-hydrated, you sweat,” Zane said. “for the elderly or those with diseases, they don’t have that reserve. They will have heat-related emergencies much sooner than their healthy counterparts.” The same is true for kids, he added; people at both ends of the age extremes, and those in the middle with underlying conditions, need to take extra care.
There’s a difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, Zane noted. With heat exhaustion, victims can often deal with it short of an ER visit, by going inside, finding a cooler, darker spot to rest. They should drink more fluids and replace their electrolytes.
Heat stroke is an emergency condition, “when the body loses ability to deal with heat and has an exaggerated response,” Zane said. “They will stop sweating, have organ failure and very high temperatures. Left untreated, it can have very high mortality rates,” Zane said. those patients with real heat stroke may need IV liquids and “active external cooling,” perhaps even extending to ice packs placed around the body.
The path from heat exhaustion to heat stroke is a continuum, he noted. Patients with heat exhaustion already made vulnerable by diabetes, heart conditions and high blood pressure “become more fragile” at high outdoor temperatures.
Zane offered the following tips to prevent either exhaustion or descent into stroke:
++ Stay in relative cool.That doesn’t have to be 75 degree chill; with Colorado’s dry air, anything in the 80s in the shade is pleasant enough.
++ Send the kids to day camp with suncreen, loose-fitting clothing, hats and lots of water bottles. Let them rest frequently, and make sure they are using their water stops to take gulps. Sunburn severely exacerbates heat conditions, Zane warned.
++ when smoke is an irritant, consult a physician before trying an “N-95″ particulate mask. The mask can filter some particles, but they are designed for stopping infectious diseases, not for comfort in a heat wave, Zane said. Wearing a close-fitting mask can make breathing more difficult, which is the opposite of the kind of restful cool many vulnerable patients need.
National Jewish is also hearing from more patients sensitive to smoke and to ground-level ozone that builds up on high-temperature days. One of the frequent questions medical people are getting is whether there are long-term impacts of Coloradans breathing smoke-tainted air for much of the summer. The short answer, for most people, is “no.” Minor irritation is temporary, and the body fully recovers. Long-term damage would come from frequent severe exposure, along the lines of firefighters with heavy time on the front lines, or acute cases of homeowner smoke inhalation close to an active fire.
The respiratory specialty center has commentary and advice on its web site.